Posts Tagged ‘Kolkata’

Wadi Dayqah Dam in Quriyat

Wadi Dayqah Dam in Quriyat

When we were planning a trip to Muscat from Dubai one of my friends said, “If Dubai is Kolkata Muscat is Panskura. Or to put it in a more international parlance if Dubai is New York Muscat is a sleepy US suburb with nothing to do there. Definitely not a place for a holiday.”

But I wasn’t daunted. I had been to Musandam in Oman in 2007 and loved the fjords and the green sea, loved the dhow cruise with the dolphins swimming along and enjoyed the snorkelling experience. I was determined to check out Oman’s capital Muscat this time and these comparisons did not really matter to me. An added bonus was my desire to reconnect with three people.

One was Swati, who was my junior in Times of India and is settled in Muscat now, second was Sumita my friend from university. I had reconnected with both on FB. And third was Swati’s husband Rahul. My husband, Rahul and I had all started our lives together in Asian Age. Being the crime reporter he often took me to do crime stories with him, an experience that I probably wouldn’t have managed to acquire without him, because despite women joining journalism in hordes crime reporting is often considered a man’s forte even today.

Armed with these two desires – one to see Muscat and the other to reconnect with old friends we set out for the five-hour drive to Oman.

The drive itself was uplifting. As the silky sands of Dubai’s deserts made way for the rough yet ravishing Hajaar Mountains the topography changed from one place to another along with the elevation.

The road to Muscat

The road to Muscat

With the mountains in the backdrop Muscat looked like a city out of Arabian Nights. Most of the houses were painted white, were not beyond four-storeys tall and had an old-world-charm that instantly appealed to me. Swati and Rahul’s home, where we were putting up for our three-day trip, had the best views of the mountain and the city. Every time I looked out of the window I was invaded by a sense of calm and peace.

View from Rahul-Swati's home

View from Rahul-Swati’s home

A typical road in Muscat. Pix credit: Swati.

A typical road in Muscat. Pix credit: Swati.

Muscat wasn’t anything like Dubai that was for sure. But I liked it instantly. It had the best roads, well-stocked supermarkets, bustling eateries and a couple of nice malls. It was definitely not Panskura or for that matter a sleepy US suburb, where life never throbs.

I was keen to explore the natural beauty of Oman so we headed for the Wadi Dayqah Dam in Quriyat the next day. At the end of a lovely drive down a mountainous road a mesmerizing sight awaited us. The biggest dam in Oman is probably the most beautiful dam I have ever seen.

Wadi Dayqah Dam in Quriyat. An hour's drive from Muscat.

Wadi Dayqah Dam in Quriyat. An hour’s drive from Muscat.

The picnic spot next to the dam

The picnic spot next to the dam

The view from the dam

The view from the dam

And the long stretch of the virgin Quriyat beach was another beautiful sight. Apart from us, in the entire stretch of the beach there was only one Omani couple and a group of boys playing football in the distance. It felt like a world where nature still had its say.

Quriyat Beach

Quriyat Beach

Omani couple sitting together

Omani couple sitting together

With a three-year-old son in tow it was not possible to cover much especially when I had to keep his sleep time and eating schedule in mind. But still we managed to see the Matrah Corniche (the heart of old Muscat) and the lovely Qurum Beach and managed a word with god in Muscat’s famous Shiv Mandir.

Qurum Beach

Qurum Beach

Sunset at Qurum beach

Sunset at Qurum beach

And then it was my turn to meet my university pal Sumita who lives in a lovely villa opposite the Azaiba beach. I realized it’s nothing like connecting with old friends, nothing like marveling at our children hitting it off immediately and nothing like taking a collective look at our plumper selves, laughing about it and saying, “Did we ever imagine we will meet like this?”

For me Muscat wasn’t a holiday it was a journey. It was a realization that some people don’t change. Yes Rahul still has that laugh that was so famous in Asian Age. Swati is still that bubbly girl I knew at work only now she is also an efficient mom to a four-year-old son and a brilliant cook. And Sumita is still that bindaas girl I spent hours yapping with at University but now she has two wonderful daughters to have her conversations with.

As for me I think I am still the kind who believes in herself. That’s why I never believed Muscat is like Panskura and made the journey to this quaint city and came back with a bag full of memories.


 

Bindi

I started blogging on International Women’s Day last year and much has changed for the Indian woman since then. Some changes have been good and some bad. I list 10 of them.

1.    Violence against women has finally been acknowledged

For ages, rape, dowry deaths, domestic abuse were treated as isolated incidents that just happen sporadically in certain communities and to certain people. After the Delhi rape case it has been finally acknowledged by the Indian government that each and every woman out there risks being abused any time and something needs to be done about it. This awakening is a positive one.

2.    Helplines and apps

Special helplines and apps have come up for women which they can use in times of need. At least there is an effort to ensure safety for women. Something that was non-existent before.

3.    Women have found a united voice

For the first time in recent history so many women came together to fight against abuse. Women came out on the roads in Delhi and braved the December cold for days to protest against violence against women. The protests quickly spread to different parts of India giving all those sufferers a united voice. This has been followed up by the 1 Billion Rising movement that is expected to bring change for women the world over.

4.     Men are supporting the movement

Be it through Facebook, through blogs, through physical presence at protest marches men have also lent their voice and support. This has strengthened the women’s movement. I remember just after the Delhi rape case a policewoman on her way to work was being heckled on a Delhi public bus. Some men came to her rescue and took the culprit to the police station. This is indeed positive change.

5.    Police has been forced to register cases

After the furore caused by the Delhi rape case, no police station is likely to ever dare not register a complaint. I was reading that day a seven-year-old girl, living in a slum, was molested by her 17-year-old uncle. Her mother complained to the police and he was arrested. Earlier the mother would have definitely found it difficult to register her complaint considering her social status and nature of the complaint.

6.    Rape has become a hot topic of discussion

I was in Kolkata last month and an elderly uncle said, “These days there is so much talk about this ‘rape shape’.” (Aajkal ei rape shape niye khub lafalafi hocchey.) Rape was an issue that people rarely discussed in drawing room conversations. Now any such conversation is incomplete without it. But in this discussion there are usually people who are truly concerned and there are also people who think unnecessarily too much importance is being given to the issue and there are also people to whom this is another amusing topic apart from Bollywood and Indian politics.  Also I have noticed people of all age groups are comfortably discussing rape, something unimaginable in our Indian culture only a couple of years back.

7.    More rape cases are being reported

Either there is an increase in the number of rapes committed or now more cases are being registered and reported. But in the last three months, sadly, there are more reported cases of rape on minor girls (one as young as three years) than I have ever heard of in recent times. This makes me think that is so much talk about rape and no consequent punishment and safety network egging some people to explore the violent crime even more? Most of the minors have been raped or molested by people they know. This is a dangerous development.

8.    There is more fear among women

I was talking to a friend of mine in Kolkata and she said that after the Delhi case women feel more fear. “Whenever I take a cab I feel scared if there is a helper with him. If he suggests an alternative route or wants to take the less populated EM bypass I start panicking thinking he has some other plans. And then if I am not home at a decent time my mother starts panicking and keeps calling me to check if I am safe.” Many women are asked by their parents, guardians and husbands to get home early to avoid any “uncalled for situation”. A friend in Delhi said, “Women’s safety was always an issue here and I worried and fretted if my wife got late. But what has happened now is that the thought of rape is constantly at the top of our minds. What if… it’s a scary thought.”

9.    Indian women are perceived as the most abused by the international media

Never imagined Wall Street Journal would be interested in a small town in West Bengal called Barasat. But now they are. They have even written about how women wear long nails and pink nail polish not for beautification but to fight their abusers.

Check the article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324616604578302620513689386.html

What they have written in the article is true but what is most interesting is the recent focus of the international media on violence against women in India. All top foreign media like The Washington Post, New York Times and The Guardian have been writing about women’s issues in India. That’s fine. But most often the tone is like India is the worst place for women. That’s unfair. If you look up statistics in Wikipedia you will see rape is probably more rampant in the US and UK than in India.  Following is an example from Wikipedia.

According to a news report on BBC One presented in November 2007, there were 85,000 women raped in the UK in the previous year, equating to about 230 cases every day. The 2006-07 British Crime Survey reports that 1 in every 200 women suffered from rape in that period. It also showed that only 800 people were convicted of rape crimes that same year, meaning that less than 1 in every 100 rape survivors were able to convict their attacker. According to a study in 2009 by the NSPCC  250,000 teenage girls are suffering from abuse at any one time.

10. Marital rape is officially not a sexual offence in India

Although women’s organizations have criticized the decision to not make marital rape a punishable offence in India I look at it this way that there are laws for dealing with domestic violence in India. Section 498A gives a woman the power to put her husband and in-laws behind the bar first and then proceed with the case. If marital rape is considered a part of domestic violence there is already a punishment in place.

 

“Because of my water-logging experience in Kolkata I could deal with Sandy better” – Indrani Das.

A relaxing month-long holiday with my two-year old son! What was I thinking?.

I was actually fantasizing about my Kolkata holiday this year. Before I boarded the flight to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport I could already smell the chelo kebabs at Peter Cat, hear the Durga Puja drums beating at Maddox Square and thinking of having a ball with my friends and family. And I thought at two and a half my son was finally old enough to savour the sights and sounds of my lovely city.

The flight went great

The last few times we have been to Kolkata with my son the trouble started on the flight itself. Either he bawled his head off all through, didn’t sleep through the night flight and stayed cranky or insisted on walking down the aisle constantly. Even before touchdown in Kolkata we were drained out. But this time we had our ammunition ready: a set of plastic zoo animals that we gave him the moment he started getting jittery. That took care of the four and a half hours from Dubai to Kolkata. An added bonus: he liked the steaming pasta served in the kids’ meal, liked his seat belt, liked the cartoon and even slept.

He loved Kolkata

He loved being scooped up into the arms of my brother-in-law and sister-in-law at the gates of the airport, loved being showered with all the attention and toys the moment he reached home and bonded with grandpa and grandma so well that he declared on the very first day, “I am staying in Kolkata. I don’t want to go to Dubai.”

Thanks to the hardy inverter my son even slept through the four hours of power cut in Barrackpore (a bustling town on the outskirts of Kolkata where my husband’s family live). My husband and I were pleased and crossed our fingers hoping for a hitch-free Puja in Kolkata.

The doc experience

Three days later we moved to my parents place in Kolkata and that very night my son came down with fever. I started giving him a medicine prescribed by his doctor in Dubai and the very next day the fever was gone although I could feel he was getting a cough. We thought it best to see a doctor. We saw one of the best pediatricians in Kolkata. He prescribed medicines for dry cough and if it turned wet we would have to switch to another medicine that he wrote down. Three days passed with my hubby and I constantly trying to judge our son’s cough and failing miserably most of the time. Every time he coughed our ears were at attention and then we ended up arguing over the type of cough. We couldn’t get to the wet-dry conclusion but one thing was for sure it was consistently getting worse till he started coughing and vomiting phlegm in the night. We rushed to the doc again. We somehow felt my son was having some kind of allergy from dust and pollution but the doc was more intent to know if the cough was dry or wet. Sigh!

New set of medicines were prescribed but needless to say it wasn’t working that well because for the fifth consecutive night my son was coughing and vomiting. We had a family trip scheduled for Mandarmoni, a beach resort four hours away from Kolkata. Now we weren’t sure if we wanted to go. We switched doctors. The pediatrician in Barrackpore prescribed different medicines and asked us to go ahead with the trip. He assured us he would get better by the sea. “Just switch off the fan early in the morning. The weather is changing,” he advised. I gasped. “My son can’t sleep without the air conditioner,” I blurted out. The doc was angry but he refrained from being rude. I could understand his disgust. I explained to him we live in Dubai. But that did not cut much ice. I couldn’t blame him. When my friends came to Kolkata after a year in the US and always covered their nose and drank mineral water I looked at them with disdain. Now I know. I can’t blame my poor son. He is born in Dubai where air-conditioning rules. He is used to this environment. Not the best I know, but if you are living in the desert you don’t have much choice.

“You have to get him out of this a/c habit if he has to go to school,” said my brother-in-law, who had dutifully accompanied us to the early morning doc appointment. I said apologetically, “In Dubai schools are air-conditioned, even groceries and bus stops are. When we return to Kolkata for good we will ease him into the weather here. Till then let him have his air-conditioner at least during sleep.”

Mandarmani trip

Thanks to the new doc he did get better. But in the hotel in Mandarmani where we were paying through our nose for the rooms we were faced with a new predicament. The hotel failed to provide simple overdone rice and dal that my son could have. The rice was hard like pebble and chillies were swimming in the dal. My son survived on Cerelac and formula for two and a half days.

By now feeding him and administering medicines had become quite a nightmare and he expressed his discomfort by being overtly naughty. I was so engrossed with him I just failed to notice the lovely sea and failed to get involved in the family fun. I only saw the layer of dust in the bed frame that my son dug his nails into, the mosquitoes in the room that made me apply anti-mosquito wipes constantly. I was actually carrying those from Dubai. Because of the dengue scare Kolkata was out of stock on anti-mosquito cream Odomos. I thought I was being a hypochondriac in this regard but I realised my fellow Kolkatans were far more scared than me. My sis-in-law wasn’t stepping out without anti-mosquito cream in the day time (because dengue mosquitoes strike in the day) and all my friends applied the same on their children when they went to school. But Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was still blaming her detractors for fuelling rumours of dengue death which were actually heart attacks she claimed. Gosh!

At last Mocambo

Back in Kolkata from Mandarmani by son had now taken to ransacking the kitchen cabinets, the book cabinets, the dressing table, the dining table and both my husband and I were tired averting the disasters. My Peter Cat dreams had almost died by then. Just then a friend asked us to meet them at Mocambo, our other favourite on Park Street.  My husband pointed out if we were staying at home we were doing the same thing, keeping hawk eyes on our son and keeping up with his tantrums. “In Mocambo at least we will have chicken tetrazzini to look forward to,” he reasoned. I thought, “What the hell? My holiday is almost gone and all I am feeling is worried and fatigued. I want my tetrazzini now.”

Hadn’t it been for this very kind lady at the next table, who kept talking to my son, while I dug into my food and the very sweet waiters who kept him company we probably wouldn’t have known how the tetrazzini tasted. Of course dinner was intercepted by trips to the balloon seller on Park Street and bouts of coughing but still for the first time on our holiday we managed to relax the muscles on our shoulders a wee bit.

Then came Puja

Puja came and it was my best friend’s birthday too. He decided to celebrate it at Anderson Club, the club that I have been frequenting since age three. There was plenty of green grass to run around and fresh air too, I thought my son would enjoy. Once inside I came to know the party was at the bar where children were not allowed. Since my husband was on urgent family duty, my mom was keeping my son company but could I leave the running around on a 75-year-old lady and enjoy pepper chicken and coke? Eventually I was at the lawn and my coke went hot on the bar table. Then disaster struck! My son threw the toy plane he was carrying with him into the fountain. There was no stopping the howling. My friend very kindly dropped us home immediately.

Finally some fun

But still I was determined not to let the last few days of my holiday slip away just like that. Thanks to a friend and her husband and their two sons who bonded with my mine, we did go to Maddox Square, had some amazing Mughlai and Chinese food. We also devoured some excellent food cooked by my aunt-in-law when she kept my son engaged showing him all the cats in the backyard of her house. We managed to have some fun at my cousin’s place too or on a coffee date with an old friend.

But the only day when I had some unadulterated fun was on Nabami when I met all my school friends. My hands-on-husband was at home with my son. That was the only time I was not trying to judge my son’s cough, I was not thinking of what he would eat for lunch, when he should sleep and if I had remembered to give him his medicine. It was the only three and a half hours in a span of one month when I truly relaxed.

When I was telling my holiday woes to a friend she said, “What were you thinking? Full-time moms of two-year-olds have no holidays. You just have to make the best of the opportunities you get.”

I think I did. And I am also grateful to God that I boarded the flight back to Dubai with a fully-recovered two and a half -year-old. Phew!

My ex-colleague Sarah Salvadore is just livid at NCW chairperson Mamta Sharma’s advice to women to dress carefully.  http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/people/A-provocatively-dressed-woman-an-easy-prey/articleshow/15043860.cms

She wrote on her FB status: The NCW wants women to “dress carefully”, this coming from a commission that revealed the identity of the Guwahati victim. Ladies, we are better off without a commission for women, which is absolutely toothless and sexist.

I would rather go by what Sarah says and not some chairperson of NCW, who, it is very clear, is living back in time. Because I know for a fact Sarah is speaking from experience. She has actually worked as an undercover reporter in Times Of India, Kolkata and exposed how risky the city can be for a woman.

 Sarah had posed as a girl, whose delayed train arrival at Howrah Station had put her in a spot late in the night, because she didn’t know where to find a hotel. She was taken to the seediest hotels by a taxi driver, taken to the darkest corner of Metiabruz and told it was Park Street. She was subjected to perverse scrutiny by lobby managers and waiters who were hoping to bait the fish (and then do what, God only knows). Well! Sarah was dressed decently but her only crime was, her train had arrived late and she didn’t know the city well – a situation that any woman, non-pubbing and non-spaghetti-strap flaunting kinds – can get into, unless of course Mamta Sharma (strange how it’s Mamta every time) doesn’t approve of a woman travelling alone.

Is it really about clothes?

Anyway, clothes have nothing to do with sexual assault, it has been proved the world over, it’s high-time the NCW shed such archaic beliefs.

I am, like so many women out there, really confused about what’s exactly decent dressing though. Because if you are talking about a saree, I have often worn them to college on a cramped public bus and the hands got frenetic on my bare skin on the back. Now I cannot see myself putting on anything but an airhostess-cut blouse (it covers the back completely) whenever I wear a saree.

If you are talking about a salwar kurta with a generous dupatta covering the front, it does help, to minimize the groping from 10 to maybe four, on good days that is. But does it allow full cover from the perverts? No, not really.

A trouser can be provocative

Then there is the trouser paired with a full-sleeve shirt – does it help in any way? It doesn’t either.

I will talk about an incident here to present my view better. I remember I was looking particularly corporate kinds that day because I had dressed up for an important interview. I was returning home in a cab and the cabbie had a faulty meter and the bill was atrociously high. I got into an altercation with him and the cabbie tried hard to rally support from some men passing by. A group of drunk men, barged into our conversation. When I told them not to interfere, they got really aggressive and said, “What the **** do you think of yourself? Since you are wearing pants and having a mobile you think no end of yourself. We can teach you a lesson right here.”

It was 10pm, right in front of my apartment in Garia. I just took the cell phone and called our crime reporter and said loudly, “This is the number of the cab tell the OC of Garia Police Station to reach here immediately.” Hearing my conversation the cabbie instantly got behind the steering and fled leaving me to deal with the drunkards who were getting dangerously close and abusive now. Thankfully a few people came out from the neighbouring shops and my apartment. The OC didn’t have to finally intervene but I still get goose bumps when I think of that day.

The salwar kurta didn’t save my day, the police did

On another occasion I was, returning from work, in my first car, a khatara red second-hand Maruti, driven by my equally hopeless driver. Just a few yards away from office, on SN Banerjee Road, the car broke down. The driver kept trying to fix it while I stood next to him. The crowd started building up, then the questions, sneers and smirks started coming as if I had done something wrong. I looked for cover inside the car and the driver continued with his explanations but the crowd didn’t budge. I had the choice of leaving the car in my office which was difficult, because I would have had to push it against the flow on a one-way road or leave it at the police station which was just ahead. It was almost 10.30 pm by then. I chose the latter. The police readily agreed to watch over my car that night and graciously offered me tea when I went back in the morning to pick it up.

When I look back on that day the behavior of the crowd around me just gives me the chills – the nasty comments, the jeering and the uncomfortable proximity – all for what? I really don’t have an explanation. By the way, I was in a salwar kurta that day, mind it!

Kolkata

Women protesting against sexual violence in Kolkata. (Pic: The Hindu)

We were a bunch of enthusiastic Sociology students attending a seminar on violence against women organized by well-known NGOs of West Bengal. Inside the auditorium, people were animatedly discussing ways of averting abuse on women, while the tea counter outside buzzed with talk about a certain Trinamool leader named Mamata Banerjee, who had done an unthinkable feat, the night before.

From the snatches of conversation I gathered that some women were being trafficked into the notorious red-light area Sonagachi when they were rescued by some NGO workers and moved to a police station. The head of the NGO had called the Trinamool leader late in the night, asking if she could help in organizing the release of these hapless women from the police station. Banerjee said that she would look into it and had hung up. Moments later, to the surprise and relief of the NGO head, she was walking into the police station to personally see to it that the women were not harassed any further and were moved to a safe haven. The year I am talking about is 1997.

Fast forward to 2012 and we have the Chief Minister of West Bengal, the same Mamata Banerjee, who does not think twice before saying that the rape on Park Streetwas a “cooked-up incident” to malign her government. It’s easy to see that like all big stars – political or filmi – she has taken the easy way out by blaming the media for distorting her words.

I was wondering how could a woman, who was so sensitive to the plight of trafficked women, do such a volte-face just 15 years later. But I guess if you are constantly accompanied by half a dozen men in black safari suits with guns tucked in their holsters, you do lose touch with ground realities. So you take the easy way out again, put the blame on a woman, since trying to change the psyche of lecherous men in the state will be like trying to bend an iron rod with bare hands.

Frankly speaking, in West Bengal if you have not been sexually harassed in some way or the other it does not imply that you live in a safe environment, it’s just that you have been plain lucky. As a born and bred Kolkatan all I can say is, life for the fairer sex is a perpetual struggle. As soon as you step out of your home you constantly risk being groped, pinched, elbowed, lewdly commented at and if the time and situation permits your persecutor, you can be molested or even raped.

I am sure if a poll is run on the women of West Bengal on the abuses they face everyday, the answer in the affirmative will be a record high. But, of course, at the end of the day, the onus of being safe lies on the woman. If she can’t ensure her own safety then in the quest for justice she runs the bigger risk of being mentally molested by the police, the court, by the entire system.

Life in Kolkata has become such that women are becoming immune to the abuses that are perpetrated on them by unknown men because chances are, you end up in a bigger soup if you try to protest.

I am talking from my own experience here. I used to walk down SN Banerjee Road from the metro station to reach my office. The first day someone groped me I tried to raise my voice against him. Instantly I was surrounded by around 50 men, who asked me to point out where exactly I had been groped. Seething and embarrassed, I walked away.

What did I do to survive? I became more cautious. I always carried a file that covered my breasts and dodged the elbows and the hands with a precision that only boxers in the ring develop. I was successful this way for months till one day I was talking to my friend on the mobile and I was distracted. Result? Someone pinched my derriere. Reacting to my muffled shriek my friend asked, “What happened?” I answered, “Nothing! Someone pinched me.”

I realized that after being exposed to the abuse on Kolkata streets from my teens, I had finally become immune to that strange touch that used to initially feel like electric shock passing through my skin.

After I read about the rape of a widow on a train on the Ahmedpur-Katwa track, my mind travelled to my eventful train journeys both on local and long-distance passenger trains. During my college and university days if public buses were my nightmare, after marriage, when I had to travel to my in-laws’ home in Ichapur on weekends, I realized the groping men on the locals could give their counterparts on the Kolkata buses some stiff competition.

Trapped between hordes of men in an overwhelmingly-crowded compartment with my dupatta going in one direction and bag in the other and hungry hands trying to get into every curve of my body, I felt like a gladiator trying to win the fight but there was always a lion, who got a piece of me.

I decided to bow out of the arena and shifted to the women’s compartment. The incessant cacophony of the women fighting amongst themselves now felt like music to my ears. I was trapped between unknown sweaty women but there was a great sense of relief in it.

It was one such train ride when I had boarded a crowded ladies compartment from Sealdah at 10pm. After a hard day’s work I had dozed off in my seat. When I opened my eyes I saw the entire compartment was empty and there were four men sitting opposite me with a gaze that made me freeze with fear. I was about to call my husband from my mobile, who was in the next compartment, when one of them shifted to the seat next to me. Then they were all pretty puzzled to see me smiling. They followed my eyes and instantly started chatting amongst themselves like I did not exist.

The reason for their changed attitude and mine was my husband standing at the train door. He had seen the men boarding the ladies compartment and had jumped in behind them. That day I realized how fear actually felt and how lucky I was.

Now coming to long-distance train travel. My friend and I were going to Delhi to appear for the entrance exams at Delhi School of Economics and we were accompanied by her father and elder sister. Late in the night some men boarded the compartment and started making their bed on the floor. When uncle tried to explain to them it was a reserved compartment one man placed a shining dagger next to him on the floor and went off to sleep. Needless to say none of us slept that night. At the crack of dawn the men left the train without snatching our luggage, without forcing themselves on us. Luck was on our side again.

After I read about the Park Street rape, my mind went back to the innumerable nights spent at Tantra, the happening disco at Park Hotel. Yes, I was always there with close friends, who dropped me home later. I never accepted drinks from unknown people, although I did strike friendships there that I cherish, but you can say I was always extremely cautious. However, one particular night, I don’t know why, I threw all caution to the wind.

There was a private party at the Park Hotel banquet which I was covering from the newspaper I was working for at that time. The party promptly shifted from the banquet to Tantra. We had the office car with us but my colleagues wanted to linger on the dance floor. I was worried that my mom would be awake waiting for me, when this businessman, whom I had been introduced to earlier in the evening and had done some polite talk with, said he was leaving for his home on Ballygunge Circular Road – which was pretty near to my home on Garcha Road. I didn’t know him at all but I asked him for a lift. He readily obliged. I asked another journalist, I had met the same evening, if she would like to come along, dearly hoping she would. She joined us.

We got into his car parked in the basement, thanking him profusely for the trouble he was taking. It was 2 am and the car rolled into a deadPark Street. The gentleman stopped his car in front of the Park Hotel gate and said, “I have to pick up a friend.” The alarm bells started ringing in my head but I was glad that the other lady was in the car with me as if she would be the knight in shining armour if the men tried to get fresh.

The man, who jumped into the car, looked moneyed and sloshed and wasn’t in a state to converse. Then our lift-giver proposed that he would drop the lady at Gariahat first and then it would be my turn. I started hyperventilating hoping this was not a ploy to get me alone in the car. The lady got off at Gariahat and I continued. I could have got off there and hailed a cab. But I could not because a woman alone with a cabbie at 2am was an even more dangerous proposition than being in a car with two men- one sloshed and one apparently gentlemanly. I was safely dropped home. I was third time lucky.

But not everyone is. Women’s harassment in Kolkata is on the rise because some men have realized they can get away with it. After years of groping and elbowing and looking the other way and denying it if they are caught red-handed, these men have finally mustered the courage to go further. The rape on Park Street only proves that.

Mamata Banerjee would do well if she changed her stance on the case. If cases like this are dealt with an iron hand a lot of women might be saved from their daily ordeal. Isn’t it high-time the beasts hide in fear and we roam free?

PS: Does Didi know the meaning of International Women’s Day? I would have loved to ask her.

Related posts: